Letter to a Lost Friend

West Orange lost a tree this weekend. A Mighty Oak over 142-years in age. A true loss to our community.


Today I said goodbye to you, a friend I didn’t know very well.

Over 142-years old. Truly, a Mighty Oak you were.

You stood as most Bicentennial Oaks stand: majestic and inspiring. You watched over our community - your community - silently observing the changes time brings with it.


Northfield Avenue was your home long before Seton Hall Prep bought your growing and caring rights. (Before that, Mountain High School. And even before that, you were but a sapling along a dirt road leading from West Orange’s Main Street up to the top of the St. Cloud neighborhood.)


Over one hundred and forty years ago.


To have the honor of standing for so long on the grounds of schools!

How many children gazed out of their classroom windows, hypnotized by your swaying branches and breathing leaves, as the children dreamed as school children do?

It is us who were fortunate to have you.


I visited your stump today. You had just been sawed down.

Twelve hours it took the tree company.

Your stump will take many more hours to remove.

Chainsaws, leaf blowers, mulchers – these are things unheard of when you were a sapling.


The tree company was beginning work on the other trees that stood alongside you.

For what purpose, I don’t know. Our town lacks an appreciation of the work you do.


Apparently the students at Seton Hall Prep will count your rings?

You will keep inspiring and educating students even after your death.


I wish I could have been there as you were taken down. I felt like I had arrived late to a funeral. It was quiet. The space you once filled with awe is now empty.


Your life deserves respect.


The plaque stating, “Hazard Zet Forward” (Seton Hall Prep’s school motto meaning, ‘No matter the risk, move forward’), still stands where you once stood. It should come down.


There remains twisted irony in that those who cared for you so diligently throughout your lifetime -schools, zoning boards, religious leaders, your community – are in fact the hazards for so many of your brethren: Oak, Hickory, Maple, Pine, Japanese Yews. All counting their final days as part of the histrical McClellan Old Growth Forest, along Prospect Avenue. Soon, they too, will join you in your service as mulch. (We still mourn the loss of those that predeceased you. Sawed down illegally. One Might White Oak, twice as old as you had grown!)


I suppose small saplings will be planted where you once stood.

They should be planted in your memory, with a plaque dedicated to you:


“Here stood a Mighty Oak. A symbol of Nature, a symbol of Life, a symbol of Respect. Thank you for your service to our community; thank you for inspiring so many. May many more trees have the fortune to live a life as you have.”


Perhaps those new saplings will have the good fortune to serve and inspire for as long as you had, dear friend.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sally Malanga January 21, 2013 at 05:05 PM
I am so moved by what you wrote. You said all the right things especially mentioning the people and institutions who are supposed to care for the trees and who are instead letting them be taken down. Our town is not a friend to trees, even though our town benefits greatly from their stature. I don’t believe the great tree was sick, we all drove by it often and noted the green canopy-a sign of health. And with all the people we knew who could save trees, they never reached out to the experts in the environemental community to get help. We might have saved it. Thank you also, for mentioning the 60” oak taken down by Seton Hall Prep School in 2006, it was on the field they built without a permit. They now have the dubious distinction of being the educational facility who moved into our town and destroyed two of West Orange's oldest, grandest trees. And soon, they will be destroying another one thousand trees. It seems that they don't yet comprehend how trees protect us from climate change. They would rather play ball. I would like to refer them to http://www.interfaithactiononclimatechange.org/
Ryan January 23, 2013 at 06:45 PM
Thanks for this Loren.
Lisa January 24, 2013 at 06:07 PM
One correction Loren, that property was never Mountain High School. It was West Orange High School. Mountain HS was located at the current location of West Orange HS. Nice story though-
Lisa January 24, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Sally, As someone who drives by Seton Hall Prep everyday on my way to work, I can assure you that this tree was heavily damaged in Hurricane Sandy. Much of the broken tree laid across the lawn and hung over the street for the first few days after the storm. I am sure it was only taken down due to damage.
Loren Svetvilas January 25, 2013 at 01:04 PM
Lisa, Thank you for the correction! I also appreciate you taking the time to read my letter, and reply to Sally's post.
Cynthia Cumming January 26, 2013 at 05:43 AM
We lost two trees on Valley Way due to Hurricane Sandy. The town removed one today... and I was sad to see it go, even if it was necessary.
wohopeful January 27, 2013 at 04:25 PM
I've heard that Seton Hall plans to re-plant several trees in that location. I hope they consider a beautiful species of sour grape trees in honor of Ms. Malanga.
Loren Svetvilas January 27, 2013 at 07:24 PM
When I spoke to one of the "tree guys" who was removing the large oak, he said that it, like many other trees have issues due to the root system being damaged. Our town has a system of destroying many trees when the streets and Belgium block is installed. The town will literally sheer the roots along the edge of street in their process of installing the block/pavement. As a result, during storms the trees have no chance against strong winds, or to feed themselves. I believe the "rule" is that there should be no pavement or disturbance to the root system under the tree equaling the area of the tree's canopy circumference. (Please correct me if I'm wrong!) Cynthia, I'm sorry to hear about your trees. If you (or anyone who may be interested) would like to do a Springtime Re-Planting project, perhaps we can plant trees around town to replace those lost during the storm??? Hmmmm....
Loren Svetvilas January 28, 2013 at 01:27 PM
I have always respected Ms. Malanga's dedication to West Orange's environment, which includes her and her husband's efforts to protect trees in town. WOHopeful, your use of the phrase "sour grapes" is disrespectful, but demonstrates (as Aesop eluded to in his fable) someone who is resentful of something he can not have. Perhaps you are envious of her dedication and courage to protect our town's trees?
wohopeful January 28, 2013 at 09:39 PM
Yes, Mr. Svetvilas, it is quite ironic how people always want to tell others what to do with their property. I wonder how many trees were damaged by Hurricane Sandy on Ms. Malanga's property and how much re-forestation she is willing to do on her own property before being critical of others. Very much like Aesop's fable, resentful that someone owns property adjacent to hers and she cannot dictate what she wants done with something that doesn't belong to her.
Anthony Picone February 01, 2013 at 12:14 AM
You should really gather more information about the situation before you bash my school. I'm a Junior at the Prep and I take APES (AP Enviornmental Science). We were actually talking about the tree today and about the KAC (Kelly Athletic Complex) on Prospect Avenue. The tree was actually dying from a fungal virus and was actually spreading the disease to other trees. As for the KAC, it is a "Secondary Forest" and consists of relatively new trees. The few old trees that are located there are actually being preserved. Also not all of the KAC is being cleared, only about half. The KAC is property of Seton Hall Prep, sometimes trees need to be cut down to benefit people. Before humans cleared Northern New Jersey, it was all Temperate Deciduous Forest. How do you think your house was built? Someone cut down the trees that were located there. I hope this clears some stuff up for you.
Matthew Jones February 01, 2013 at 12:24 AM
The tree was severely infected by a fungus and was dying. It's removal was necessary to prevent other neighboring trees from becoming infected and was not an example of enviornemntal disregard as you say. On the contrary it was helpful because it protected other trees from infection.
Patrick Caldwell February 01, 2013 at 05:57 AM
Dear Loren, Your description of the tree's majestic life and dramatic downfall, though poetic, leaves me rather unsatisfied with the absence of some poignant issues. As a proud student of Seton Hall Prep I have heard more than my fair share of axes to grind with the school from the surrounding community. This however, though touching, goes a bit too far. Your comment regarding removing our school motto from the site is drama for drama's sake. You paint our institution as one which doesn't bat an eyelash at the idea of removing such a fine specimen, yet you fail to mention the hundreds hours our students have volunteered in our Environmental Club enabling these miracles to flourish in the first place. While demanding that hour motto be removed you conveniently forgot to mention that it was Mother Nature herself who took the tree from us, not the mustache-twirling villains who apparently occupy our administration. As a Catholic school, SHP is dedicated to stewardship, a staple of Catholic Social teaching, and should not be chastised by the community for necessary actions.
Ibrahim Moisus February 01, 2013 at 12:22 PM
You are absolutley rediculous. I go to Seton Hall and I don't think you realize how ignorant you are. I don't think anyone would write an article if you cut down a tree. Another thing, it's just a tree, it doesn't have feelings as you seem to imply.
Loren Svetvilas February 05, 2013 at 07:10 PM
I commend those in the SHP Environmental Club for their work. I wasn't aware of your school having such a club! Is this new? When residents of West Orange were working diligently to help protect hundreds upon hundreds of trees from being cleared to make way for ball fields, a concession stand, parking lots, etc -- all in the name of sports-- the only SHP representatives that showed up for the countless hearings were your so-called "mustache-twirling villains." The Environmental groups from both West Orange High School, as well as Bergen County Community College came out in force many times to fight for the environment. (I contend that students were kept in the dark and fed mis-information, and that staff felt intimidated into speaking against their own school. Such as one of your own science teachers who clammed-up quickly, despite an eagerness to protect the environment!) Environmental stewardship is not a part of the SHP motto, despite it being a so-called sacrament. Why is that?
Loren Svetvilas February 05, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Matthew, Thank you for your reply. I meant only to point out the irony that another tree associated with SHP (regardless of the factors) had lost its life on SHP property. I believe Ms. Malanga doubted its illness. Out of curiosity, has SHP explored where the downed tree will end up? It seems a fungus would prevent "general" disposal. Just wondering.
Sally Malanga February 05, 2013 at 07:28 PM
To the students of Seton Hall Prep and the Environmental Studies Dept. Your school proposed an insensitive clear-cutting of the entire 22 acre with 1400 trees site of the McClellan Old Growth Forest. The school clear-cut 20 acres in 2000. The neighbors on Prospect Ave are being flooded. The neighbors all around and those to the north did not want the trees removed in such a drastic manner. Thus we had to oppose the plans at the Zoning Board until they were revised to be considerate of the neighborhood, something your school could have done on day one. I wish you had come to the hearings, You would have discovered numerous truths about the forest and the history of the site. Yes, it is an Old Growth Forest, we had two experts review it. It has 50 trees over 150 years old. I saw one Seton Hall Student at the 25 hearings. After repeated unreturned calls to your Environmental Studies department, I gave up. Your school closed ranks, lowered your heads and fought. Msgr Kelly originally said he would meet with the neighbors to collaborate and then he refused to make a date with us. Your school has a rare natural resource, but you are choosing sports fields which could be placed anywhere over science and environmental stewardship. You will regret the project. The site is too small. It will not fulfill your needs as a full service athletic complex. There isn't enough parking, and there are no sidewalks. The loss of trees is only making matters worse for climate change.
Loren Svetvilas February 05, 2013 at 07:45 PM
Anthony, Yes, thank you for clearing things up for me. You are wise beyond your years, and I'm confident you will go on to serve the Prep well. (Perhaps they will name a baseball field after you one day?) Out of curiosity, where did you gather your vast knowledge of the forest and the development of the KAC? Was it at the zoning board hearings, or from your coaches? That would help clear even more stuff up for me.
Loren Svetvilas February 05, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Oh, Dear Ibrahim......I don't even know where to begin (!) Read your post in a few years, and I'm sure you'll understand what I mean.
Michael Anthonies February 07, 2013 at 02:10 PM
How do you think you got to live where you live now? The entire area used to be a Forest, but when someone clears it to make something that would benefit you, you decide to stay quiet. The extension of the Athletic Complex will benefit thousands of people not only students of the Prep but students of other schools as well. Besides the fact that the school already makes due with the small amount of fields they have, while still relying on other schools to host some of their events, they need a bigger complex to support them. Don't only think of yourself. If we left up all of the Forests that used to be here, you and me wouldn't have a home in the first place. They're trees. They're resources. Get over it
Michael Bruskin March 20, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Trees produce the air that give us life. Without them we all die, maybe theres baseball in heaven. The way we are going we better hope so.


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